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One big question for each of Canada’s five Stanley Cup Playoff hopefuls – Sportsnet.ca

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If and when the NHL returns, whether to finish the regular season or jump straight to the playoffs, Canada figures to have five teams in the post-season mix. While we still don’t know what structure any conclusion to 2019-20 will have, we do know what the biggest questions and challenges were being faced by these playoff hopefuls.

Here are the five Canadian teams in the running for the playoffs and the single biggest question they were facing about their style of play before the pause button was hit.

CALGARY FLAMES

Biggest Question: Defending the Rush

The Flames entered the playoffs last season as the top seed in the Western Conference and were promptly eliminated in five games by the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs torched the Flames off the rush, out-chancing Calgary 61-27 and outscoring them 5-0 in those situations. Nathan MacKinnon and company ran wild and the Flames season was over in the blink of an eye. This season, Calgary has continued to struggle defending opposition speed.

The Flames have allowed an average of 6.7 scoring chances per-game off the rush which ranks 28th in the league. Only the Ottawa Senators have allowed more rush goals.

If the playoffs started today, the Flames would open up against their provincial rival, the Edmonton Oilers. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Connor McDavid leads the NHL in goals scored off the rush – shocker. Teammate Leon Draisaitl ranks second.

Can Calgary find a way to cut down on these dangerous transition chances against and slow down their opponent’s biggest speed threats? They couldn’t do it in the first round last year and they haven’t been able to do it this season.

EDMONTON OILERS

Biggest Question: 5-on-5 play

Roughly 80 per cent of a hockey game is played at even-strength; 20 per cent on special teams. I bet the Oilers wish it was the other way around. Edmonton has the best power play in the NHL (by far) and ranks second in penalty killing. However, at 5-on-5 the Oilers haven’t been able to keep their head above water.

Edmonton ranks 18th in goals for and 25th in goals against at 5-on-5 this season. The only team in the Western Conference to allow more goals than Edmonton in this game state – the San Jose Sharks.

The only team currently in a playoff spot to allow more – the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The only team currently in a playoff spot with a worse goal differential at 5-on-5….well, there isn’t one.

The Oilers take fewer shots than any team in the league at 5-on-5, which would be fine if they were able to generate a reasonable amount from the high-danger scoring areas of the ice. However, that hasn’t been the case as Edmonton ranks last in shot attempts and 28th in attempts from the slot.

Defensively, the Oilers struggle to defend the critical areas of the ice once opposing teams get set up in their end. Only Ottawa and Chicago allow more chances against off the cycle than Edmonton.

In part due to the quality of the chances the team allows, the Oilers goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen rank 25th in 5-on-5 save percentage at .912.

Can the Oilers’ elite special teams carry them in the post-season? That’s my biggest question with this team because I’m skeptical they’ll be able to flip a switch at even-strength if/when the playoffs start.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Biggest Question: Defence/Goaltending

No team has ever won the Stanley Cup after finishing outside the top-20 in goals against during the regular season. The Maple Leafs currently sit 26th, allowing an average of 3.17 per-game – worst of any team in a playoff spot. We know the Leafs can score, but keeping the puck out of their net is what’s keeping them from being a true Stanley Cup contender.

Part of it is team defence and part of it is goaltending.

Toronto has actually improved in terms of the amount and quality of chances it allows compared to last season. However, Frederik Anderson’s play has dropped from elite in 2018-19 to average in 2019-20. The end result is more pucks in the back of the Maple Leafs’ net.

Defensively, the Leafs’ biggest weakness remains defending in-zone where opposing teams are able to create quality looks at a high rate despite not spending a great deal of time in Toronto’s end. The puck-possession-focused Maple Leafs spend less than five-and-a-half minutes per-game defending at even-strength, yet allow an inordinate amount of chances and goals against off the cycle.

Can the Maple Leafs find a way to clamp down defensively in the post-season?

The closest comparable would be the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens are the only team since the NHL expanded in 1967 to win the Cup while finishing in the bottom-third of the league in goals against during the regular season. In 1992, after losing three of their first four games to Washington in the first round, the Pens switched to a less aggressive offensive system, prioritized defence and went on to win the series and eventually the Stanley Cup.

Toronto will have to improve defensively or hope Andersen can hit a few more gears come playoff time or it will risk a fourth straight first round exit.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Biggest Question: Team Speed

The Canucks are in a fight to make the playoffs, tied with the Nashville Predators for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Who knows what kind of playoff format we’ll see if/when the season resumes, but the biggest question I have with this team is whether a lack of team speed will be an issue in the post-season.

Potential first round match-ups include the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Oilers – all teams that play with a lot of pace.

The Canucks create the fewest amount of scoring chances off the rush of any team in the NHL and they allow the second most.

Vancouver doesn’t have the team speed to create a lot of quick-strike offence and as a result need to establish a presence low in the offensive zone to generate quality scoring chances. They do this well, leading the NHL in goals scored off the cycle. However, playing deep in the offensive zone as often as they do and not having an abundance of team speed to track back is what contributes to a lot of the rush chances and goals against.

This lack of team speed could be an issue against a team that breaks the puck out as well as the Blues or teams that play with the kind of pace the Avs and Golden Knights do.

The Canucks have a lot going for them. Jacob Markstrom has been brilliant this season, Quinn Hughes will be a Calder finalist and frankly, I’d have him top-five for the Norris Trophy as well. Their top-six, led by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, has been great. But, my big question with the Canucks is whether they’ll be able to handle an opponent whose game is predicated on quick puck movement.

WINNIPEG JETS

Biggest Question: Can Hellebuyck carry the load?

There’s no doubt in my mind that Connor Hellebuyck has been the best goalie in the NHL this season. This, behind a Jets team that ranks 24th in expected goals against. The big question in Winnipeg is: Can Connor carry the load? He’ll have to for this team to have success in the playoffs.

No goalie has played more games this season than Hellebuyck, who has posted outstanding numbers in the process. In an effort to isolate goaltending performance from team defence, let’s look at the expected goals against (reflection of team defence) in games Hellebuyck played and compare that to the actual number of goals he allowed.

Based on the quantity and quality of shots faced, and the corresponding expected goal value of each, Hellebuyck was expected to allow 168.1 goals this season – he allowed 140. That differential of 28.1 goals he saved his team was by far the best of any goalie.

The Jets are an above average but not elite offensive team. They are below average defensively and have a stud between the pipes. If Hellebuyck can pick up where he left off, assuming hockey returns (nothing would make me happier – I think I’ve watched all of Netflix at this point) then the Jets have a fighting chance against whoever they face. If his play dips, Winnipeg will be in trouble. No current playoff team relies on its goalie more.

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MLBPA reaffirms pay stance, no deal close – TSN

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NEW YORK — Baseball players reaffirmed their stance for full prorated pay, leaving a huge gap with teams that could scuttle plans to start the coronavirus-delayed season around the Fourth of July and may leave owners focusing on a schedule as short as 50 games.

More than 100 players, including the union’s executive board, held a two-hour digital meeting with officials of the Major League Baseball Players Association on Thursday, a day after the union’s offer was rejected by Major League Baseball.

“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon. This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward.”

“Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless players agree to further salary reductions,” Clark added.

Players originally were set to earn about $4 billion in 2020 salaries, exclusive of guaranteed money such as signing bonuses, termination pay and option buyouts. The union’s plan would cut that to around $2.8 billion and management to approximately $1.2 billion plus a $200 million bonus pool if the post-season is completed.

MLB last week proposed an 82-game season with an additional sliding scale of pay cuts that would leave a player at the $563,500 minimum with 47% of his original salary and top stars Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at less than 22% of the $36 million they had been set to earn.

Players countered Sunday with a plan for a 114-game regular season with no pay cuts beyond the prorated salaries they agreed to on March 26. That would leave each player with about 70% of his original pay.

MLB rejected that Wednesday, when Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer informing him “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible.”

“Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020,” Halem said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.”

Management officials have said they are considering a slate of perhaps 50 games or fewer. There has not been a schedule averaging fewer than 82 games per team since 1879.

“The overwhelming consensus of the board is that players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said in a statement. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

Baseball’s March 26 deal allows games if there are no government restrictions on playing in front of fans and no relevant travel limitations. The sides agreed to “discuss in good faith” the economic feasibility of playing in empty ballparks, which appears to be the likely option.

MLB says that without fans it would average a loss of $640,000 for each additional game played. The union disputes the teams’ financial figures.

Teams also worry about a second wave of the new coronavirus this fall and don’t want to play past October, fearing $787 million in broadcast revenue for the post-season could be lost. MLB proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, which would generate additional broadcast rights to sell, and players have offered to guarantee the larger playoffs for both 2020 and 2021.

While baseball has reverted to the economic bickering that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the NBA announced plans Thursday to resume its regular season with 22 teams on July 31, the NHL is moving ahead with plans for an expanded Stanley Cup playoffs this summer and MLS is planning to have teams return with a tournament in July.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, players want nothing more than to get back to work,” Clark said. “But we cannot do this alone.”

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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NBA Board of Governors approves competitive format to restart 2019-20 season with 22 teams returning to play – NBA CA

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4h ago


NBA

NEW YORK, June 4, 2020 – The NBA Board of Governors today approved a competitive format to restart the 2019-20 season with 22 teams returning to play and a tentative start date of Friday, July 31. The Board’s approval is the first formal step among many required to resume the season.

The NBA is working to finalize a comprehensive season restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association. The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices. The season restart is also contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season.

Based on the competitive format that the NBA Board of Governors approved today, the 22 returning teams would be the 16 teams (eight per conference) in current playoff positions and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. Those two groups comprise teams with the NBA’s 22 best records.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

The season restart would begin with eight “seeding games” for each returning team and include the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed in each conference depending on combined records across regular-season games and seeding games. Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA Playoffs would proceed in a traditional conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round. The NBA Finals would end no later than Oct. 12. (See below for the list of returning teams and additional details.)

If, as tentatively scheduled, the season resumes on July 31, then the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery would be rescheduled for Aug. 25, the 2020 NBA Draft would be held on Oct. 15 and the 2020-21 NBA regular season would likely begin on Dec. 1, 2020.

The 14 NBA Lottery teams would be the eight teams that do not participate in the restart and the six teams that participate in the restart but do not qualify for the playoffs. These teams would be seeded in the lottery and assigned odds based on their records through games of March 11. The 16 playoff teams would draft in inverse order of their combined records across regular-season games and seeding games.

NBA Season Restart: Competitive Format Plan

The 22 returning teams for the season restart would be the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards from the Eastern Conference and the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns from the Western Conference.

Each returning team would play eight seeding games, as selected from its remaining regular-season matchups. At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the best combined records across regular-season games and seeding games would qualify for the playoffs.

If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best record would earn the eighth playoff seed.

If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference (Team A) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference (Team B), then Teams A and B would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. To earn the eighth playoff seed, Team A would need to defeat Team B once and Team B would need to defeat Team A two games in a row.

The 2019-20 season would conclude with a traditional playoff format with best-of-seven series in the first round, conference semifinals, conference finals and the NBA Finals.

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Hockey Canada lifts ban on sanctioned activities, lets members decide on return – CBC.ca

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Hockey Canada has lifted its ban on sanctioned activities and is allowing the country’s 13 member organizations to individually determine when it’s safe to return to action.

The move is a first step toward resuming play after Hockey Canada cancelled all activities under its banner March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hockey Canada said in a statement the best approach for a resumption plan was for each member to work with regional public health authorities to determine the appropriate steps to return in areas that fall under their jurisdiction.

The sport’s national body said it expects the timing for a return to the ice will differ among its members. Certain regions of the country are further along with plans to reopen and roll back restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Hockey Canada’s 13 members are: BC Hockey, Hockey Alberta, Saskatchewan Hockey Association, Hockey Manitoba, Hockey Northwestern Ontario, Ontario Hockey Federation, Hockey Eastern Ontario, Hockey Quebec, Hockey New Brunswick, Hockey PEI, Hockey Nova Scotia, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, and Hockey North.

Melody Davidson leaves Hockey Canada

Decorated women’s hockey coach Melody Davidson has joined Own The Podium as a summer-sport adviser.

She coached the Canadian women’s hockey team to Olympic gold in both 2006 and 2010.

Davidson switched to a managerial role overseeing Canada to another gold medal in 2014 and a silver in 2018.

She then remained with Hockey Canada as women’s head scout while mentoring former player Gina Kingsbury to take over as director of national women’s teams.

Davidson coached Canada in four world championships and won gold twice.

Melody Davidson took the Canadian women to gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The 57-year-old from Oyen, Alta., also served as the International Ice Hockey Federation’s lead coaching mentor to improve the international women’s game following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

She’s been involved in women’s hockey for a quarter-century starting with the 1995 Canada Games, when she stood behind Alberta’s bench.

Davidson was named to the Canadian Women and Sport’s most influential women’s list five straight years from 2007 to 2011.

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